Forest people: Young people protest in Upper Swabia against the expansion of a gravel pit and try out a free coexistence

Forest people: Young people protest in Upper Swabia against the expansion of a gravel pit and try out a free coexistence

It’s three in the morning. It’s pitch black in the forest. The treetops allow only a few rays of pale moonlight to penetrate the treehouses. An alarm clock rings, headlamps shine on the ground a few meters below. Two figures abseil down, wearily greet each other and climb onto their bicycles. You cycle up to a house and get a package out of a
garage. Then they continue on a lonely road, turn off after a few hundred meters and hide their bikes. They walk through the forest with subdued lights.


Suddenly the trees thin out and they stand in the middle of a lunar landscape of stone and dust. A gravel pit stretches out before their eyes, the size of two football fields. The masked people climb an excavator and hang up a banner. Her headlamps shine on the colorful letters: “If you enter the Meichle moor or forest, the gravel will soon flood your bank account”. This may sound difficult to understand to outsiders, but the saying makes sense: We are in the Altdorf Forest near Ravensburg in a gravel pit owned by the Meichle + Mohr company. It could already be expanded in autumn, 15,000 trees are to be felled for it. In addition to sand, gravel is an important building material for concrete, which is indispensable for the current construction boom. The two masked people disappear into the darkness on their bicycles.
The Altdorf Forest is an almost 20 kilometer long mountain range in Upper Swabia not far from Lake Constance. The landscape was shaped by the Würm Ice Age; gravel was deposited there with the melting glaciers. The deposits lie under the forest floor. “The area is home to many water sources that are endangered by open-cast mining,” criticizes Legolas, who, like all activists, uses a forest name. He has arrived back at the tree huts and is preparing the press release for the action. Long blond hair falls on his shoulders, he smiles almost continuously. The student has just turned 18 and exudes unshakable optimism.


He has been involved in the climate movement for almost a year. In December, he was there when activists built a tree house in Ravensburg, which a special police force evacuated after 18 days. “That attracted a lot of attention, and many perceived the mission as inappropriate,” he says. “As a result, our group has grown and we have decided to start this forest occupation.” The camp in the “Alti”, as the forest is affectionately known by the activists, is just two months old and has already been open for some Attention in southern Germany. Kiwi comes from Bavaria and has been here for three weeks. The 16-year-old has light blonde hair and exudes a certain seriousness with her blue eyes. “The time in the forest has changed me profoundly,” she says. “My plans for the future have been turned upside down.” As a schoolgirl, she has to leave the next day; but she fears returning to home and school. “Now I can see what’s going wrong in the bourgeois world,” she says. She wants to come back soon and fight to keep the trees standing. The felling could take place in the fall when the clearing season begins. But a decision has not yet been made about the expansion of the gravel pits. The plan of the regional association Bodensee- Oberschwaben is still being hotly debated.


The forest occupiers don’t want to wait until the time comes, they want to live a utopia in their tree house village: banners with the circled A hang everywhere. “You hear a lot of horror stories about anarchy, about chaos and the rule of the fittest,” laughs Needle , an 18-year-old student from Ulm. “But here I got to know a new form of coexistence that is very human and peaceful.” He’s just getting his first political experience in the camp. “There are always new people around here. Nevertheless, you treat each other with care. That fascinated me”, he says. Everyone here says that there is no uniform occupation, only autonomous people who live together freely for a certain period of time. In contrast to other forest occupations, there are no fixed gatherings in the Altdorf Forest. “Plenums are a form of representation, that is, of domination, and we want to avoid that, because then decisions are made for everyone on behalf of a few people,” explains Legolas. “Instead, everyone here should autonomously and confidently determine how they want to spend their day and what tasks they take on.” Needle is amazed at how flawlessly it works: “It’s almost magical.”

After getting up there is no fixed plan, says Sue. “I join the activities I feel like doing right now. Here I learn to live out my needs and go about the day openly, «says the 23-year- old German-Iranian who studies interpreting in Heidelberg and translates into Farsi, French and English for refugees. What is important for them is the feminist and anti- racist consensus of the cast. However, she noticed that only a few people with a migration background are active in the camp.


Kiwi, on the other hand, says that she feels empowered as a woman in the forest, for example when it comes to building: »I thought that I could only help very modestly. But two activists involved me in everything. I really didn’t expect that because I don’t know it from home: I am never given the chance to carry something heavy. “
The camp is leisurely. A fire burns around which half a dozen people have gathered for breakfast. “We go to the supermarkets and containers regularly, although we also get a lot of free food,” Legolas explains. Kiwi laughs: »We actually want to become more autonomous, but it’s nice to see how much the residents help us. Of course we’re happy to accept that, ”she explains. Twice a day there is warm vegan food, they have not set meal times. With their unconventional life, the young people feel they are avant-
garde. With their determined protest they want to advance the climate movement.

There are currently around 15 activists in the camp. “It’s not that much, but it allows us to start the day relaxed,” says Legolas. If more people live here – a week ago it was more than 50, then cooking will be relocated to the “barrios”. This is the name of the individual, independently organized groups of huts. There are currently four, their names sound strange: »Wable« (for »forest remains«), »Oberacht«, »Dahinten« and »Lost«. Usually they consist of three to six tree houses, a kitchen and a dry toilet. All buildings are made of pallets and donated building material, which are fastened with ropes so as not to damage the trees.

Like organic life cells, the barrios grow and change constantly. Depending on which people live in it. The “Lost” camp is only intended for women and people with a migration background, so that they have a safe haven. “We keep the barrios small so that all decisions can be made quickly and easily. They are independent of one another, but complement one another, «explains Pollux, who is currently walking through the forest in search of the perfect place for a new tripod. Tripods are simple platforms on three logs. “One or two activists can stay out of the police’s reach for several hours. With a dozen, the eviction will be slowed down by almost a week, ”he explains. Black Pearl, Bermuda Triangle, Rojava. All cabins have names that tell a story or include a slogan. They are rustic but cozy, protected from wind and rain, and most have windows and even small terraces. Thanks to small batteries, there is also electricity and WiFi so that the pupils can take part in distance lessons and seminars. Some also work in the forest industry and in nature conservation. Your knowledge and skills are in demand. They show the others which knots are used for what, how to abseil and climb up and which types of trees there are. “Learning from one another is a central aspect of life in the forest so that everyone can take part in the activities and become self- confident,” explains Bärchen, who wears a warm Canadian shirt and round glasses.


On Sunday afternoon there is a relaxed bustle in the camp. While some eat and sing around the campfire, others haul pallets and boards to build more tree houses. Lots of visitors come by. Some are familiar faces who donate wood and food, others come for the first time. Anyone who wants to get a tour. Children climb the tree houses, adults marvel at the young people’s buildings. “I wish I were younger,” smiles an older sympathizer who is dawdling through the camp with his family. The forest occupation enjoys a lot of support from the local residents. The area around Ravensburg is considered to be wealthy. In the last local election, the Greens triumphed, forming a coalition with the CDU. The expansion of the gravel pits is still being hotly debated. “It is significant that at least a third of the gravel is exported to Austria because there are stricter environmental laws than here,” criticizes Roman Muth, local politician for the Greens from Weingarten. “My group is trying to support the forest occupation. We find this form of activism and coexistence inspiring, «he says during a visit. Still, the Greens don’t exactly have the best reputation among the occupiers. Many remember the traumatic evacuation of the Dannenröder forest, which was made possible with a black-green majority in the Hessian parliament.


In the evenings around the campfire, stories from the “Danni” are told. Many were there in November and December when the tree houses were destroyed and a swath was cut in the forest for the construction of Autobahn 49; They were dragged through mud and snow by police hundreds until the last tree had fallen. The activists left, but many did not give up and carried on the resistance. New climate camps are being built all over the republic.


The Rathausplatz in Augsburg has also been occupied for months. The activists want to stay there until the goals of the Paris Climate Conference of 2015 are met. Legolas also spent four weeks on the pitch. “I radicalized myself there,” he says. Since then, he has not only wanted to talk about an ecological and domination-free utopia, but also to live it out.

By Philippe Pernot

Photos by Felix Kastle

Leave a Reply